Advice for Parents with Artistic Children

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I frequently get emails from caring parents inquiring about ways to advance their child’s early interests in art.  “My son/daughter is a gifted artist.  What classes or software can I start them on to give them an early jump on their careers?”  Here are three BAD replies that provide direct answers that most parents are actually expecting: (forgive me of my sarcasm here, I can’t help it.)

-       The Magic Pill.  Autodesk Maya is probably the most common 3d animation software used by professionals.  Buy a $2,000 license and watch them learn to hate you.

-       Get ahead of others.  It doesn’t matter how good they are now, just as long as they are better than other kids in their grade.  Constantly compare their work to the public benchmarks put in place by our school systems.  Send them to advanced fine art classes where they will be the youngest prodigy in the group and watch them develop an inferiority complex with their art that will eventually make it’s way into their vision of their own self’s and then watch them shrink into a hole to hide from the failure that they once loved.  If by chance they excel in these advanced fine art classes, then watch as they develop an inability to accept correction, or even see error in their own work.  Their progress will slow to a crawl and then wait for that rude awakening moment when they realize just how incompetent they are due to their own warped sense of greatness.  They will not admit to this though, they will just keep blaming everyone else for not understanding what “good” art really is and probably become a university professor of art.

-       Entitlement syndrome.  Encourage them by telling them they are the best and one day they will become the greatest artist in world.  Fill their heads with dreams of grandeur, fame and glory.first-sketchbook_01 17

First things first parents.  Resist the temptation to judge your child’s artwork. Parents do have genuine intention of helping their children, which is a noble thing.  But to help a creative mind continue on that path is not through conventional, socially acceptable methods.  The creative mind does not progress in the same manner as our public school systems embrace which is probably the same form of judgment wired into most parents.  In order for our current educational procedures to manage and assess the learning of children, they have to find ways to measure the progress of learning.  So they create tests, establish benchmarks, with the end goal of judging the level of knowledge in our children’s brains.  And our culture, as a whole, has bought off on this as some sort of end-all gospel truth.  ACT, SAC, GPA…are all measurements of knowledge.  Mastery of these forms of measurements grants access to scholarships, top schools, careers, and massively affects the future of our children.  Notice how I said that these are measurements of knowledge and not intelligence?  Knowledge is information itself that enters the mind as a result of learning.  Knowledge is easy to measure, thus easy to manage and judge “smart” children from “dumb” children.  Boom, put it all in an excel spreadsheet and some government official gets a pat on the back.  But intelligence, that is so much more.  That is the individual child themselves, with all their gifts, talents and shortcomings, ADD, OCD, etc. that take that knowledge and produce completely unique results.  Measure that Washington!  Knowledge alone did not create the result. It was how that individual child chose to utilize that knowledge. The development of the creative mind is not measurable.  You cannot measure a child’s intelligence. Especially creative intelligence. There are no tests for this, no tools, no software, so don’t even try.  But as parents, you can encourage creative intelligence to develop naturally and brilliantly in your children.first-sketchbook_01 2

The parent first has to understand 1. Why their child is drawing and 2. What the subject matter of the drawing actually means.

Parents, sorry, you’re really not a good judge of art.  We all see a young child’s drawing and we instantly judge it against the age averages of talent in our minds.  This is a very destructive thing to do if we act on it.  At a young age, it DOES NOT MATTER HOW “GOOD” THE DRAWINGS ARE.  That is not what to focus on.  It’s not important at all.  First of all, unless you are a seasoned artist yourself, you cannot begin to criticize color, design, composition or any advanced principle of art.  Most adults quit drawing in the fourth grade.  Therefore, their level ability to judge another’s drawing resides at a fourth grade level.  If a doctor’s education ended in the fourth grade, I don’t think I’d believe a word that came out of his mouth.  All children are in a rapid state of mental growth.  They are learning so much faster than adults can and although an adult may see rough scribbles on the paper, that child could have had a major breakthrough in emotional color theory.  Scribble…not important.  The color choice before the scribble…major artistic breakthrough.first-sketchbook_01 4

Adult Logic does not apply. (Sorry Spock).  Many of the artistic decisions children are making in their minds are EMOTIONAL decisions.  They are not all logical.  Try to avoid looking for “logical reasons” why your child chose to draw a red ant over a black ant.  There may be some influence of logic like choosing brown for the ground, or blue for the sky and the older the child; the more logical decisions influence their art.  But the emotional decisions are far more essential to understand and allowed to flourish.first-sketchbook_01 5

Ask a child why they draw.   They will give you a simple answer.  “Because I like it.”  Whatever a parent decides to do to encourage their child to excel, DON’T DESTROY THE “LIKE”.  A child’s mind is so full of wonder, worlds and imagination that drawing gives them a form of creating “the illusion of life”.  They are creating an actual visual representation of the wonderful expansions of their mind.  When they “think” of a new thing, they draw it, it becomes an illusion of the reality that’s in their minds.  Can you see how formal art training too early can destroy a child’s “like” for drawing?  “The first lesson of the day students…. a still life.  Draw this apple, and an egg in this brass bowl, and then we’ll really see what a great artist you are!”  AHHHH!  I scream inside at the thought of so many potential brilliant children losing their initial focus on the love for drawing, and replacing it with focus on the skills of drawing.  When the LOVE for drawing is killed or replaced too soon, it does not matter how well skilled the artist later becomes, they will eventually give it up because the LOVE is so far gone, that when all the artistic struggles rear their heads, (which they will) there won’t be enough love to sustain them through the battlefield of being a career artist.first-sketchbook_01 15

Technology will NOT advance your child’s art skills.  This is one of the biggest misconceptions in art.  In fact, technology introduced too early can KILL your child’s interest in art.  Computer software introduces the concept of rewards without earning them.  Ever seen a kid whose parents provide every necessity of life with no effort at all from the child?  Yeah, a spoiled brat!  Brilliant tech minds develop this software and they fill it with amazing solutions to artistic problems.  Some easy to find, some harder.  Software is utilized best when the artist has developed a vision in his or her own minds prior to touching a single.  Then, the software becomes a tool, just like a pencil, to create magic.  However, when the artist dives into the software, without utilizing any artistic efforts in their own mind, they pull out “canned” solutions from the software and think they’re great.  They’re awful and they are everywhere.  The artist cannot feel satisfied when the artist invested little.  Yet, they dived into software so early in their career, that they became dependent on solutions “out of the can”, and not on creative visionary process that comes when all you have is a pencil.first-sketchbook_01 16

Demon Ponies.  So what about the subject matter?  “I’m concerned, my child drawing a lot of dark images, demons, blood and gore.”  Yes, I think anyone will agree that in excess, these things could be expressions of deep pain they are dealing with and getting them help would be very important.  However, for most children, they are merely exploring how their art makes them feel.  In most cases, the emotion is simply wonder and awe.  There is wonder and awe in creating something that does not exist except in the mind.  But the reaction of wonder and awe are a “limited-time” emotion.  No one expresses wonder and awe at the same first time level every time they look at the Mona Lisa.  So for most children, the demons will pass, then the gore will pass, then the anime, etc.  Be careful not to prematurely sever the natural course of wonder decay because of your own judgments.  Children, who have parents that do this, will typically revisit that wonder with even greater detail because now, there is a real adult reason to be explored.first-sketchbook_01 8

Teach your children to LOVE to draw.  Don’t try to teach them to draw.  Don’t try to advance them faster than their minds are ready.  Don’t try to fill them with totally unrelated motivation like becoming a wealthy artist or a Hollywood animator.   “If you work hard at your art, then you will be rewarded with a well paying job.”  This is like telling children Santa will bring them new socks and underwear if they make the “nice” list.  They don’t want socks and underwear for Christmas, just like they don’t draw for some future paycheck.  The only true motivation that is a constant for all children is simply the feelings they get when they work with that crayon to visually bring to life something that only existed in their minds.  That feeling is “I like to draw.”

What parents should do:

  1. Tell them how happy you are to see them drawing.
  2. Tell them how much you love to see their drawings and how it makes you feel.
  3. Encourage them to keep drawing what they love to draw.
  4. Above everything, teach them to continue to LOVE to draw.  Do not talk about getting better.  That talk will fill them with anxiety that they have to start to meet a social standard of good art.  And that unrealistic standard frequently turns to fear of art and ultimately quitting art.

If this Love for drawing is strongly rooted in them at a young age, then there is nothing that will stop their greatness.  They will improve at an accelerated rate because they will still love the act of drawing.  They will stretch their growth beyond the course curriculum because every assignment will be a labor of love, and personal joy, not a grade.  Their careers will find them and their love for the work will expand their capacity for creativity.  They will continue to seek for personal wonder and awe in their work for the rest of their lives and not the paycheck or the pat on the back.  Ultimately, they will be much more happy with their lives.

Ryan

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